Being a journalist in the digital age certainly is different in many ways. When I first started out, the most critical and valued tool a reporter had was his Rolodex. (Remember those? Little carousels with index cards on which you hand-write phone numbers and addresses. That's right, hand-written!
Astonishing, I know.) Contacts are always key, and being able to reach those contacts at a moment's notice can make the difference between producing a solid piece and having a story full of holes.
Now, granted, covering the sport of pool and the billiard industry isn't exactly working on Capitol Hill or doing investigative reporting on the Mob, but information still needs to be culled, facts need to be verified and quotes need to be generated if the story hopes to be complete, compelling and accurate.
Even in the billiard industry, there are secrets, controversy, backroom deals and breaking news. I used to love burning up the phone lines immediately following Billiard Congress of America board meetings to find out what new projects were being discussed, who was arguing with whom and other juicy tidbits that wouldn't be revealed in the BCA's customarily vanilla press releases. Always had to rotate the "sources," though, so it was never obvious who was leaking inside information. (Knowledge of what went on in the boardroom always irritated a few of the board members, to the point of prompting a "gag" order once!)
The biggest challenge over the years, of course, has been getting quotes and information from players. That was particularly true in the years that preceded cell phones. Pool players were rarely home, and phone numbers never seemed to last very long before I'd get the "this number is no longer in service" message.
Then came email. This mode of communication offered a modest improvement, if only for a short while. Generally speaking, pool players took to technology with about the same enthusiasm they take to giving up weight.
Cellular technology, however, has been a vast improvement. But, again, trying to get players to actually answer their phones or return a call was a struggle.
Now, Facebook!! That's a different story!
Facebook has saved my journalistic life!
Sure, Facebook is an easy target for snarky comments. (Actually, it's the most enjoyable place to post snarky comments!) No doubt, people can become obsessed with Facebook. I can almost imagine how much work productivity is lost to Facebook on a daily basis. (By the way, what do Facebook employees do to waste their time at work?)
But the truth is, virtually every top pool player has a presence on Facebook. And well they should. It's a great way to maintain a high profile with pool fans, promote appearances and chronicle adventures. Jeanette Lee's "Athlete" page has nearly 90,000 followers. Ewa Laurance has 5,000 "friends." Shane Van Boening has 14,000 followers.
How does all this relate to my journalistic endeavors?
When pool players aren't playing, they're either posting to their Facebook page, responding to someone else's posts or viewing other pages. And when that is happening, a little green bullet shows up next to their profile photo.
That's when I spring into action!
I unabashedly admit that I have a browser open to my own Facebook page the entire time I'm at work. It is always on in the background while I go about my normal duties in other programs. When I see that players are online, I will often use the message option to ask them a question, or get an update on their activities and plans.
Quite honestly, the response is amazing. Accessibility to the players is something any writer in any sport would love to have. Facebook makes that happen in the pool world. I can't begin to count how many times over the past four or five years I've been able to interview a player through instant messaging almost immediately following a tournament or when I've been on a tight deadline. The tournament could be in Beijing, Berlin or Baltimore and the ability to conduct an interview is the same. How cool is that?
And beyond straight interviews, Facebook as provided a great way to get inside information about what's happening in the pool world. Plenty of billiard businesspersons have pages as well, and getting "off the record" comments on a variety of subjects has never been easier.
More? Every top writer and photographer covering the sport is on Facebook. The social network has become my primary mode for sourcing photos from tournaments and industry events, and assigning projects.
The amount of actual work I conduct on Facebook is staggering. (Yes, I see all of the eye-rolling going on out there. It's like the old, "I buy Playboy for the articles" rationalization, right?)
I have to admit, however, that the most enjoyable and educational part about following the billiard world through Facebook has been getting to really know the players. They expose a lot about themselves, which is fascinating. How else would I know about Darren Appleton's amazing attachment to his dog? Or about Monica Webb's home projects? Or Jayson Shaw's cooking prowess? Or Shane Van Boening's ice-fishing adventures?
So, thank you Mark Zuckerberg, for making my job more efficient and enjoyable!